NEW YORK (Reuters) - When food writer Jess Thompson moved to Seattle, Washington, she expected to find the adventuresome cooking for which the city is famous. But she admits to being pleasantly surprised by the rich diversity of the rest of the state.
The 150 recipes in her book “Dishing Up Washington” attempt to capture the authentic regional flavors of the entire state, from Seattle to Spokane, Yakima to Walla Walla.
“It is a total food heaven,” said Thompson, cookbook author, recipe developer and food blogger. “I knew it would be delicious but I‘m not sure I knew how much would be available here and how constantly I would be bombarded with really great food.”
Thompson spoke to Reuters about discovering the distinctive foods of Washington and the state’s climate and locavore tradition.
Q: Is this your first cookbook?
A: “This is my fourth cookbook; three in my name, one that I ghostwrote.”
Q: Did you write the recipes for this book?
A: “The book is a little bit unique because it is about 60 percent recipes that I’ve written inspired by the state’s ingredients and about 40 percent recipes by chefs, farmers and artisans from all over the state.”
Q: What was your purpose with this book?
A: “I wanted to show not just best restaurants but ingredients that drive those restaurants -- what it’s like to run a potato farm and the simple potato soup the farmer’s mother makes, which is super warming, super delicious but not high-falutin chef-y approach that I think many Seattle chefs might have taken ... I wanted to show the guy who grows saffron on the Olympic peninsula, and the tomato grower in northeastern Washington. She doesn’t have a restaurant but she’s important to the state because she grows these really fantastic tomatoes.”
Q: How would you characterize the cuisine of Washington State?
A: “It’s adventuresome coastal cooking that depends heavily on local ingredients.”
Q: Which ingredients are typical of the state?
A: “Stone fruits like peaches and cherries are huge here; tree fruits like apples and pears; fish and shellfish, mainly crab, oysters, mussels, and salmon. Then there’s really great dairy and cheese, mostly from the northwestern part of the state. The state is also well known for larger crops like grapes, wheat and beef.”
Q: How does Seattle’s famously rainy climate affect the cuisine?
A: “The state is sort of divided by the Cascade Mountains into two distinct climates: the wet half towards the west and the drier half towards the east ... (But) there’s a giant misconception about the rain here. Boston gets more rain than Seattle, but Seattle gets it almost every day of the week in winter. From a food perspective this is a very good climate for growing. Drought is not really an issue here. On the eastern side drought is an issue but many areas there get more than 300 days of sunshine in a year, so the growing season is very long and the conditions are great.”
Q: What accounts for the strong locavore tradition?
A: “Because it’s available. Farmers’ markets near me are open the year round. In February maybe I can’t buy cherries but I can buy great kale, radicchio and hazelnuts. I think it’s such a vibrant community because the weather allows us to get food year round. The food world doesn’t shut down from November to April here.”
Q: Who is your book aimed at?
A: “I wanted to make it approachable for people cooking anywhere. The chef recipes are a little more complicated and difficult. The recipes that I’ve written are much simpler ... This book also an edible tour guide to the state. People tell me they’re using it as a travel guide, keeping it in their car as a way of deciding what restaurants to go to in Seattle and the state.”
Northwest Crab Chowder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
4 stalks celery, cut into quarter-inch slices
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 7 medium), cut into half-inch chunks
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 (15-ounce) can fish broth
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
1.5 pounds Dungeness crabmeat, chopped
1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes, milk, cream, fish broth and clam juice. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.
2. Transfer about 2 cups of the vegetables to a food processor or a blender, blend until smooth, and return to the pot. Stir in the crabmeat, cook for 5 minutes longer, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot.
Editing by Patricia Reaney and Doina Chiacu